Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wolvie and Cyke: A Love Story

Well, here we are Valentine's Day week. What better time to discuss our favorite mutant twosome? True they have there occasional conflict. What long term couple doesn't? At the moment they are experiencing a pronounced 'schism'. One of them has been around since the very beginning of the series, and the other is the most popular thing in yellow and blue spandex ever conceived. With the X-franchises general focus on adolescence and adolescent drama it makes a lot of since to have a couple of guys around to represent adolescent angst about hair growing in odd places and 'power' spurting out of control.  They also speak to a classic pairing that's come down through the millennia: the man of the city and the man of the wilderness. Yup, they're quite the pair.

From Thought Faucet

By the way, my new-ish (Two and a half months in at the moment.) job has gotten in the way of consistent comics reading and analysis, but this is where I try to regain my momentum. By the way, for those of you keeping track, last month's Juggernaut centered post now has the most page views of anything I've ever posted. It mostly seems to be from folks looking for pictures of Juggernaut, but I'll take what I can get. Now, on to the goods.

It's interesting that Wolverine and Cyclops have been so frequently at odds over the years. Rough rugged guy vs. smooth sort of uptight guy is an easy dynamic to use for drama, but when considered as individual characters Cyclops and Wolverine's in story backgrounds have a lot of similarities. Both are orphans who lived somewhere in the north after the death/alien abduction of their respective parents. Both spent most of their time until joining the X-Men as loners, worried about what could happen if they went out of control. True, Wolverine tends to be a little more sociable, a little less insular, but the two men were not all that different until they get X'ed.  Mostly their dynamic functions something like this.

Or this:

You get the picture. Scott's been leading the X-Men from the start. Logan feels like he has more experience and that Scott's a dick. Then there's the other source of conflict.

It's unfair and sexist and all those other negative things that Jean is so often reduced to a chit in the conflict between these two, but at the same time it's been a major defining aspect of Wolverine and Cyclops's characters. It's an adolescent conflict, but that's also probably part of the point. Wolverine and Cyclops's respective traumas have left both slightly arrested in adolescence. Maybe when she comes back to life she could suggest they grow up and try out some kind of triad arrangement.

Cyclops fulfills an important role in the X-Men, and the Marvel Universe as a whole. He's probably the universe's second best field leader, after Captain America, and is excellent at recognizing potential synergies between various teammates' powers. The DC character I often find myself comparing him to the most is Dick Greyson/Nightwing. Both represent the consummate professional superhero. Both were trained by stern, but fair taskmasters. Both led teams of young people who engaged in soap opera-esque antics, and tended to be more like a family than a professional level super-team, i. e. the JLAvengers. That both the Teen Titans and the X-Men have operated in fairly unprofessional ways throws both men's professionalism into stark relief. Both are orphans. (At least Cyclops always thought he was until he learned that his dad was abducted by aliens and became a space pirate.) Cyclops embodies a stiff awkward adolescence focused on keeping immense potential for destruction under control.

Wolverine is a professional too, but a different kind of professional. For Cyclops one always senses that superheroics and leadership of the mutant population is a sort of calling, the only thing he really knows how to do. Wolverine on the other hand seems to view superheroics as a type of job. That's why he's so willing to hang out with other teams like the Avengers and do solo work on the side. It's good job for him too. He gets to use his skills and natural talents to their fullest potential without having to do too much of the thing he's the best there is at doing. After years of working for governments and being a wetworks guy, Wolverine must have found working for such a loosely governed team quite liberating. No wonder there's friction with Cyclops. Even without the conflict over Jean Grey's affections, Wolverine gets to be on a team where he's free from government regulations and restrictions, but there's this young weinery guy always trying to tell him what to do. In a way the relationship between the two of them tends to be more interesting than either of their relationship's with Jean. Sometimes it's almost like they're long estranged brothers in a sibling rivalry. This despite being generations apart in age, and Cyclops's literal brothers Havok and Vulcan.

Then there's the fact that both Cyclops and Wolverines most visible powers bear more than a little phallic connotation. Letting loose with an eye-blast or popping a claw both have a connection to the archtypal sexual frustration of adolescent boys. I know things kind of keep coming round to sex in these posts, but I think that there is something subconsciously, yet inherently fetishistic in the very existence of the superhero and the supervillain. Both in the more common modern sexual sense and in the mythical, totemic sense. The whole play of power and domination inherent to super-conflicts adds to this. Cyclops and Wolverine are markedly different, but fundamentally similar powerful totems for maturing bodies and minds. Cyclops's usual costumes  make him resemble tall blue penis-man to an extent, as do Wolverine's unbreakable bones. Both men gained something similar from Professor X's mentorship. Control and eventual mastery of their innate destructive power. Cyclops learned how to turn his uncontrollable vision into a precisely refined tool. Wolverine learned how to control his rage and channel towards those who would violently oppose Xavier's dream. Next to Jean Grey they are his top disciples.

The two also evoke comparison to the most seminal heroic duo of western culture: Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

Enkidu's the one with the horn.

Gilgamesh is the refined warrior-champion of his city-state. Enkidu is a being of the wilderness. When they first meet they battle, only to end up the best of friends. The wild man and the civilized man. It's easy to see this dynamic in the Cyclops-Wolverine rivalry/partnership.

It's easier to like Wolverine. He's freer with his emotions and doesn't separate himself from his tea mates the way Cyclops often does. He doesn't have too many real responsibilities. Cyclops often get's labelled "the dick", but I don't think this is really fair. Cyclops usually has the most experience as a superhero on any incarnation of the X-Men he's leading. Also a lot of the other X-men have been on non 'X' teams over the years, but not Cyclops. His devotion to Xavier's dream and mission is commendable, but at the same time I think there's something sort of sad and insular about it. I think that's a side of Cyclops we don't really get to see enough. It wouldn't be that hard. Just show the problems he has trying to interface with other Marvel superteams when joint efforts are called for. Also, Wolverine is really kind of a dick too, he's just a dick in a way that's more charming and palatable to the media consuming public. He's a hairy, anti-social dwarf prone to fits of blinding rage and killing frenzies. By comparison Cyclops is just kind of bossy, which is less palatable when your a kid reading comics, because it's harder to identify with someone whose in charge of things when you, yourself have had very little time spent in that role. Furthermore Cyclops is actually freer to do interesting character driven arcs than Wolverine is in a way. Wolverine is a Marvel-Disney cash cow property and they can't afford to relinquish too much control over his depiction. Thus, it's harder to take riskier character moves with him or doing anything that risks him appearing less than an icon of adolescent cynicism and rebellion.

I often get the impression form online fandom, that Wolverine is one of those character's like Batman. People don't always like to think of them as superheroes. Superheroes are Superman flying around 'do-gooding', Kids' stuff. I think this goes to show Wolverine's very direct connection to a state of adolescence. Wolverine is who you get into to see claws and ninjas and revenge as a motivating factor for action. Unlike Cyclops, Wolverine usually has few responsibilities other than keeping his rage in check and taking apart foes. That's all well and good, but I'd sort of like to see him played up 'as' a superhero a bit more. also I feel his rage has been downplayed in recent years. I'd like to see him struggle with it a little more. Like I wrote at the end of the last paragraph, because of his huge popularity, it'sa tough to see Marvel doing anything truly groundbreaking with the Canadian runt. He's over a century old, how about some steampunk adventures for young Wolverine?

As with Jean Grey I think both character's powers could stand to be creepier and more off-putting. Wolverine's whole setup is a natural for various kinds of body horror. Super healing, metal bones, even enahnced senses are all fertile ground for this approach. As for Cyclops, too often his eyeblasts are reduced to stock energy blasts. Really, I'd be more interested to see an interpretation where we don't actually see the beams, just the effect they have on things in their way. A sort of powerful reverse vacuum that erupts from Scott Summers eyes, organs normally oriented to perception rather than projection. Really there could be an element of cosmic horror in there as well. Imagine if the Phoenix Force, as I discussed it in my post on Jean Grey, decided that Cyclops's inexplicable ability to generate force using nothing but solar energy and his own metabolism represented a cosmic aberration too great to be allowed to remain unchecked. What if that force had been subtly manipulating Jean so that she would be in a position to eliminate that aberration if need be?
What if she might have left Scott for Logan without that manipulation. It's the sort of soap operatics on a cosmic scale that X-Men is excellent at exploring.

As adepts of Xavier, Cyclops and Wolverine represent the two most prominent foot-soldiers in his crusade for a more enlightened world. Both utilize traditionally masculine destructive energies in service to higher ideals about freedom and the future. Since both men have spent a good portion of their lives 'caged' in one way or another it makes sense that their powers are manifested in blasting and cutting. Cyclops is the ultimate ranged combatant paired with Wolverine, the melee specialist. They show us that both the rational Apollonian side of humanity and the wilder Dionysian side can work together for the common good, despite personality conflicts. This is the strength of Xavier's vision where such conflicts are overcome through cooperation and team work in contrast to, say, Magneto who often merely tries to dominate such problems on his own teams out of existence, or the gospel of Apocalypse, more on which you will read when we get to ol' blue lips. As far as designs go, one could do worse than look at Alex Ross's X-Men redesigns from Years ago.

Cyclops's design here has a monastic tone, that is appropriate to Scott's personality, and also reiterates the idea of the X-Men as a spiritual/philosophical movement as well as a superhero team. The Wolverine redesign gives him that earthier feel he needs, but possibly goes too far in incorporating the "X" into the design.

They're splitsville at the moment, but I hope that when it all blows over we'll get back to comics' favorite bickering duo. For an extra heartwarming look at where their friendship could end up, check out Paradise X for the only panel you'll ever see of late middle-aged Cyclops and Wolverine hugging it out, bitch.

Next: Four Color Life in Decay

No comments:

Post a Comment